Here in the ivory tower of Tiny Mix Tapes, we’re generally way too cool to put much stock in press releases, but the spiel 1080p have posted on their site in commemoration of Jeremy Coubrough’s third full-length as Tlaotlon is indirectly revealing, so long as you know how to interpret your way through its contractual hyperbole. We’re told that, across the four “quasi-techno” workouts of the inhumanly dense Ektomists, glassy synths, floating samples, and twitching drum sequences “crumble outward into wide open space, an endless point-cloud vapourized/vapourizing domain,” and that the fractured spasms of “Novodene” are “a pure out of body experience built in space.” Even better, it goes on to inform the diligent consumer that the LP’s “rapturous,” anti-structural, post-whatever chords evoke “an escapist urge to… ultimately soar above power and technology,” and that the staccato electro-pulses of “Fuji IV’” confuse themselves into “bursts of outer-space synth swirls.” Understandably, you might at this point be tempted simply to rib these laudably far-fetched and emphatically repetitive excerpts for doing their job to the nth degree, yet they nonetheless serve as a fitting introduction to Ekotomists, since they touch on what is possibly the defining effect of its digital bedlam.
This effect becomes apparent within the first couple of minutes of “Spectra,” when the programmed focus of an ascending bass line is submerged and sullied by a lathering of formless blips, disconnected keyboard sweeps, and syncopated drum-machining. Soon enough, any inkling of a unified architecture or trajectory is annulled in a tangled web of cross-purposed electronics that flit autonomously from one speaker to another, while in their wake 1080p’s talk of disembodied clouds and amorphous escapism begins to find its confirmation, in that Coubrough’s urgent chaos seems to prevent any one particular emotion, sensation, impression, idea, or resolution from taking hold and assuming any authoritative clarity. This means that as the track scuds through percussive twitches, synthesized breaths, and halting key-stabs, the listener’s attention is deprived of a center, and without any center, it dissipates aimlessly in a slew of high-strung audio tracks that seem to run in virtual disregard of each other, engendering a senseless yet somehow captious dissonance.
Stubborn discordance might be the last thing you’d expect to underlie any kind of artistic purpose or concept, but it quickly emerges that the synthetic anti-parallelism of Ektomists is directed toward subverting one of the supposedly fundamental aims of music. Taking the rushing neon surfaces of “Novodene” as a case in point, rather than qualifying Tlaotlon as one of the innumerable acts that direct themselves toward the stimulation, sharing, and settling of emotion, its sleek burbling and erratic turns of phrase lump Coubrough in that marginalized niche of soundmakers who chase after emotion’s suppression or even dissolution, who want to make its expression nigh on impossible. This is why the steady measurements of an artificial kickdrum are unceremoniously disturbed by out-of-step snares, hiccup’d synths, and irregularly phased samples, creating multiple trains of thought and affect that, in cancelling each other out, thereby prevent themselves from enjoying a concerted or continuous effect on the listener’s moodscape. And without their mutual coordination, even though this listener might momentarily recognize the shimmied, heavy clinking of a PC-generated riff as evoking maybe a futuristic wasteland or soulless HTML interface, any development or consolidation of her initial reaction is going to be quickly stifled by the arrant percussion and static-infused textural flourishes, leaving her stranded in a psychically indeterminate limbo.
And things don’t ease up for us with the off-beat “Juicerays” and its spurts of processed air, flashes of haphazard keys, and awkward timings. If a particular rationale for Coubrough’s suffocation of emotion was sought in its choppy 32-bit IDM and technocratic meltdowns, we could speculate that he was passing comment on the obligation “average” music fans impose on the musician to give definition and direction to their inner emotional lives, to give them something to feel and to tell them what to do with such feelings, what they mean. Coubrough abandons this role in a restless confusion of pixelated squeaks, industrialized whirrs, aquatic swooshes, and dogged techno-claps, substituting a recognizable arc, logic, or message for a tireless muddle of rhythms that just about maintain their self-contained immediacy and insistence.
It could also be added that, like with so many of the artists on the commendably outré 1080p roster and so many beyond, Ektomist’s palette centers itself around abstracted, inorganic, and unnatural sounds precisely so as to engineer a domain where the listener is deprived of recognizable cues to emote. Hence, the angular weaving of sci-fi notes on “Spetra,” the digitized buzzes and crackles that rise abruptly out of the floor on “Novodene,” and the cryogenic ambient brushstrokes of “Fuji IV” complement the already anti-affective structures and sequences on display. This results in an album that — depending on your particular worldview — either liberates us from the omnipresent compulsion to feel something about everything or cripples us with an inability to respond to the world in an articulate, discriminatory, or purposeful manner. We therefore either rail or drift across the shifting dimensionalities of “Fuji IV,” buffeted from one transient surge of computed instrumentation to the next, without ever registering what the fuck is happening to any usable or assimilable degree.
Yet even with these virtues, Ektomists is never too far from the predictable charge that its disconnection and anarchy precludes substantial engagement just as it precludes a substantial outflow of emotion. Possibly these two consequences are one and the same thing, and despite sympathy for the artistic merits of such an objective, they push against the album’s attainment of significant levels of momentum, intensity, and release, swapping them for an almost atemporal series of detached episodes that stand next to each other without ever ramping into each other. And without this sense of progression toward some reassuringly final endpoint, the album stumbles a little in the very place it succeeds, since it fails to prevent tiny slithers of boredom from dirtying its otherwise affectless purity.